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The Real Taboos Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 11 June 2012

One of the things that most struck me about the Sr. Margaret Farley controversy – the Yale professor emerita whose book Just Love was recently the subject of a warning from Rome for its acceptance of masturbation, homosexuality, and remarriage after divorce – is how utterly tired it is. In fact, the only thing mildly surprising about the case is how long Rome took to get around to dealing with a book published in 2006 – and even that, by Roman standards, is not very noteworthy.

If you take out the media spin and put the matter in plain language: a book by a heterodox nun is properly criticized by Catholic authorities as not Catholic in its moral teaching (which she herself partly admits) and, as a result, overnight becomes a cause célèbre in the secular media and is defended by the “Catholic” Theological Society of America (CTSA), of which she is past president.

Further, she’s praised by both for “thinking in new ways” about questions of sexual morality, which just happen to be the same old ways that elite and academic opinion has been traveling for decades.

But of course, that’s the kind of Catholic nun you would expect to be hired as a professor of Catholic studies at an Ivy League institution like Yale. If you read her defenders, Farley is also supposed to be an elegant writer. If you read Farley herself – and I have to confess that I’ve had the stomach only to dip in here and there – you’ll find a moderate style employed in Just Love to reshuffle the old standbys, by which I mean thinkers and modes of analysis prominent in secular academics about two decades ago: non-Western cultures, Michel Foucault, Catherine MacKinnon, Greek antiquity, Africa, the Kamasutra, cross-cultural perspectives, obstacles to new thinking, and such like.

For some purposes, it might be worth doing a careful survey of all these people and things. But if, after an allegedly arduous search and a professed wish not to simplify matters that are very complex, you arrive at a position essentially congruent with the untroubled assumptions of the Zeitgeist, what was this elaborate ceremony all about?

You might just as easily have walked out of the library and taken down what many students and faculty at Yale already believe – without benefit of clergy, or professors.

And please, none of the usual mendacity about “minority positions” struggling bravely for a hearing. It’s quite difficult to assess such things accurately, but the media had no trouble finding various institutions, including Catholic ones, where Farley’s book has been a staple of courses in sexual ethics since it appeared. This is hardly surprising since anyone who tries to take a contrary position on virtually all college campuses will appreciate quite pointedly the true balance of power.


Woman and Man at Yale

Indeed, that’s exactly what happened at the very same Yale University where Sr. Farley teaches to The Catholic Thing’s own Anthony Esolen back in February. You probably didn’t see anything about it in the media, nor was Tony defended by the CTSA when he went to Yale to present a standard Christian view of sex and marriage. Instead, he got tagged as a homophobe – you’re clinically ill if you’re a traditional Christian, whatever your reasoning – and had his lecture disrupted by homosexual and heterosexual couples who, on a predetermined cue, came out of the audience and began kissing.

Ironically, Esolen’s lecture was part of True Love Week – an event organized by some intrepid Yale students themselves to counteract the grossness and lewdness of what has become a staple on the campus: Sex Week. The university administration seems to have tried to curtail some of the more salacious parts of Sex Week, but has also tread lightly for fear of student and faculty backlash.

This year’s organizer of Sex Week told a reporter at The Weekly Standard that the goal of the event was not “about bringing rampant sex to Yale,” but about “creating dialogue.” Well, that’s helpful. No adults in such situations ever seem to point out the utter absurdity of the way that many students committed – in their own minds – to “creating dialogue” will blithely stifle the speech of others, all in the name of justice and diversity.

Happily, there are other currents coming to the fore, even in the Ivy League. For one, there’s now a magazine, The Ivy League Christian Observer, that reports on such outrages. But the effort is not all negative: it also documents the significant, if still fragile efforts to bring a different voice to the institutions that are forming our next generation.

If the media or the Catholic Theological Society or Sr. Margaret Farley herself were really looking for some signs of fresh, alternative voices in the culture, we’d see something – at least once in a while – about the emergence of these brave efforts and maybe, just maybe, that they should be given respect once in a while as sincere and reasoned and not to be demonized.

But the advocates of new approaches aren’t really interested in any such thing and instead dedicate themselves to defending ideas and currents that over the past half-century have wrecked families, harmed children, and made the proper taming of erotic impulses – a task every civilization prior to ours has known is crucial to human happiness and calls for great wisdom – one of the real, not imagined, taboos in American society.

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.
 
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Comments (19)Add Comment
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written by Manfred, June 10, 2012
Thank you for a very timely and pointed article, Dr. Royal. I believe it dovetails nicely with David Bonagura's piece of June 10th on the SSPX. If the salvation of your child or grandchild (I don't know your age) depended on sound Catholic (in every sense of the word) teaching, would you rely on Sr. Farley, the LCWR and the CTSA, or would you prefer to entrust them to the SSPX? The question answers itself, does it not?
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, June 11, 2012
Sr Margaret Farley’s tactics are older than one might imagine

Among the propositions condemned by Pope Innocent XI on 4 March 1679 were the following

“48. Thus it seems clear that fornication by its nature involves no malice, and that it is evil only because it is forbidden, so that the contrary seems entirely in disagreement with reason.

49. Voluptuousness is not prohibited by the law of nature. Therefore, if God had not forbidden it, it would be good, and sometimes obligatory under pain of mortal sin.”

They were tersely “condemned and prohibited, as they are here expressed, at least as scandalous and in practice pernicious.”

I do prefer the former succinct style of the Holy Office to the more discursive productions of the CDF, but that is a minor point.
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written by Dave, June 11, 2012
We poor Ivy Leaguers sure take a bashing, but let me assure you there are many of us who share the perspective of The Catholic Thing. Unfortunately the Ivy League as a whole has bought lock, stock, and barrel into the "necessity" of population control, and so has accepted libertine, contracepted sexuality in any form as the way to go. Against this current many have Ivy Leaguers bravely stood and continue to stand.

On a more Catholic note, and a point I regularly make in my comments, is that had the practice of the interior life not collapsed with the advent of the Council, we would be in very different shape, and so would the Sisters of Mercy. So even as we take stock of all that is wrong -- and there is much, very much -- we ought to take stock of all that is good, of all the young people flocking to faithful, rigorous religious orders, of young priests who don't buy in to the shibboleths of priests in their sixties and seventies, of masses in the traditional rites that are full of young people, and Novus Ordo masses, too, when the clergy are faithful to the Magisterium and the person of the Holy Father. The glass may indeed be half-empty, but "greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world."
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, June 11, 2012
Farley should decide what her religion is: Catholicism or Sexuality. A personal retreat might help her decide.
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written by Grump, June 11, 2012
It is "Catholics" such as Farley, Geraldine Ferraro, Pelosi, Biden, Ted Kennedy and scores of others who support the heresies of "A Catholic Statement on Pluralism and Abortion" published in the New York Times in 1984 which have kept me away from the Church.

I can't understand why Rome puts up with this. Here's the second paragraph from that ad: "Statements of recent Popes and of the Catholic hierarchy have condemned the direct termination of pre-natal life as morally wrong in all instances. There is the mistaken belief in American society that this is the only legitimate Catholic position. In fact, a diversity of opinions regarding abortion exists among committed Catholics."

If I was the Pope I would have ex-communicated the lot of them. Instead, we get milquetoast from the bishops and largely silence or toleration from Rome, which only encourages further rebellion. The Church has the tools to deal with these so-called Catholics but chooses not to use them.
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written by Arnobius of Sicca, June 11, 2012
@Manfred

Neither actually.
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written by martha, June 11, 2012
@Grump Don't let the heretics keep you from the Church. Yes, what you write is true, and I feel the same way you do about the lack of action by Bishops and the Pope, but please realize that the Catholic Church is the one church founded by the disciples of Jesus. We who truly believe must remain to pray for and support our good priests and bishops and especially the Holy Father. Search out a good parish with good priests who follow the official teachings of the church. Please don't let the dissenters keep you away. Remember, even Jesus allowed Judas to remain as one of the apostles.
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written by Achilles, June 11, 2012
Yes Manfred, neither. You set up a false dichotomy, again. THere is both positive and negative we can learn from SSPX, but very little positive from the LCWR. How about Orthodox Catholocism? THe hermeneutic of continuity bravely exhorted by our wonderful HOly Father?
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
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written by Chrysologus, June 11, 2012
Are you sure that every society prior to modern Western society has known how to "properly tame sexual impulses"? I am not sure that that was true of ancient Roman society, for instance. Such a habit (chastity) seems particularly (thought not exclusively) Christian to me.
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written by Robert Royal, June 11, 2012
Chrysologus: I didn't say every society knows how to do that (do even Christians know that?) I said they knew it was important to do and takes great wisdom. If this were not the case, we'd have to say that natural law truths don't run to sexual matters and that's simply not the case.
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written by I_M_Foreman, June 11, 2012
I'm willing to chip in to send Ms. Farley a Catacheism. Seems like she is sorely in need of one.
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written by WSquared, June 11, 2012
Seconded, martha. Not only should Grump not let the heretics get him down, but further to the point of the Church being the one true Church, it's because we have the actual Body and Blood of Christ. Those Sacraments are conformed to Christ crucified and resurrected and they build up the Church throughout all ages. Indeed, we're talking the Body of Christ here, and not some mere human organization. So a cleansing will happen sooner or later. Christ promised us that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church. So the smoke of Satan and other nasties might get in for a time, but expect it to get flushed out, eventually.

One thing all of this is bringing to the fore, however, is the question of what being Catholic even means. Particularly when some people toss about the term "devout Catholic" rather flippantly and imprudently. Most of us would fail St. Francis de Sales's litmus test, so those who call themselves "devout Catholics" should be a bit more circumspect. Those who willfully misrepresent Church teaching in public are Catholic merely in name, which is to say barely Catholic at all.

Excommunication must be used prudently, because given that we live in a country whose historical narrative and understanding of its national identity tends to romanticize dissent, it might well backfire. One definitely wants them all to repent and come back, knowing full well that God isn't done with them or any of us yet. But failing that, quite a few commentators have pointed out that heretics tend to contracept themselves out of existence. Either way, the Church wins.
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written by Elizabeth Nolan, June 12, 2012
@Doughlas Remy
I'll see your reference to Mary E. Hunt with a visit to the work of Helen Avare. As far as the Church wanting influence over the most intimate aspects of my life, I dare say I am grateful for the guidance, especially if one defines 'intimate aspects' in a broader context than sexual behaviors. Am I not more than my sexual behavior? Secular social scientists back up the Church's teachings about what to do about AIDS in Africa (even a Harvard prof gave props to the Church's recommendations). The dismissal of the Church's teachings about sexual morality on account of the tragedy of the sex abuse scandal is illogical. The view of the human being at the foundation of those teachings is not negated on account of the sins attached to the crisis. Rather, the scandal could be considered as a gong sounding an alarm about the muddled sexual ethics of a larger rotting cultural ethos extending well beyond the boundaries of the Roman Catholic community.
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written by Sam Schmitt, June 12, 2012
Looking past your cliches, I'm curious to know exactly how "the Vatican" keeps this incredible power over people's bodies. Is it through a secret police force, prisons, informants, and torture? If you read the article you'll see that it is the Church that is being shouted down. Insisting that Sr. Farley not misrepresent Catholic teaching is nothing more than truth in advertising: she can't use the name "Catholic" to push her own agenda. And she knows that if she can't, she'll be a nobody (ever heard of Fr. Charles Curran?) - no longer a brave dissident speaking "truth to power" but just another academic parroting the same old stuff. Seems like it's Sr. Farley's the one worried about losing her "power."
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written by Doughlas Remy, June 12, 2012
@Elizabeth Nolan and Sam Schmitt: I would love to respond, but my comments are being removed. If this one makes it onto the site, it will not last more than an hour or so, I'm sure.
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written by Brad Miner, June 12, 2012
@ Doughlas Remy: As I mentioned in a personal email this morning, none of your comments has been removed, except an earlier one in which you complained about the alleged removal. If you look above you'll see a line between the comboxes that indicates a low-rated comment (that's yours), which may be opened. This is an aspect of the program we use and is user generated. In other words, other commenters think your comment unworthy, but the designation has nothing to do with we who manage The Catholic Thing.
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written by Mark, June 12, 2012
Remember when Liberal Catholics considered it laughably nonsensical to accept sexual and marital advice from a priest, who, because he had no experience in either, was in no position to offer any such advice? But there's no problem praising and promoting the sexual advice of a nun, so long as she's aligned with their social and political agenda. Proof that for Liberal Catholics sexual license blinds them to sexual truth, and, as always, proof that their politics trumps their faith.
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written by Gabriel Austin, June 13, 2012
I permit myself to wonder how much experience Sister Farley has with teenagers, if only students at her college. Certainly she seems not to realize that discussions about masturbation quickly lead to impure thoughts and erections. Will she next being doing in-class discussions of PLAYBOY magazine?

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